When I look back at my life, I see three distinct journeys that I have undertaken, based on my early years. The first was my childhood dream about Antarctica, the frozen continent. The second was Australasia, being my continent of study in geography. The third was the selection of Cry, The Beloved Country, which was my text book in English literature.
Whether it was the forlorn cries of the Titihoya bird, the words of Priest Msimangu, or the constant reminder from Alan Paton that All Roads lead to Johannesburg—whatever the reason, I found myself drawn to South Africa in October 2004. Much as I traveled to Antarctica to establish India’s second base in 1987 and traveled to Australia to ultimately establish a university in Dubai, my journey to Africa was yet another date with destiny.
Like any journey in a young man’s life, I met with interesting people everywhere I traveled; as my business interests grew so did the level of my interaction with political leaders around the world. Yet nothing that I had experienced in meetings with leaders prepared me for the meeting with Mr Nelson Mandela.
The opportunity arose just before the World Economic Forum in 2006. It was the latter part of May that year when we received confirmation that Mr Mandela would see us at his foundation in Johannesburg. I will remember that day and those 30 minutes with him as one of the most blessed moments of my life.
Until then, I had never been in the company of a man whose distinctive personality brings a sense of humility to your existence. His words were deliberate, deep and reflective of his understanding of the person he was meeting.
He seemed a man who looked at each moment for what it was worth; the mark of a man who gave importance to everything around him, more than to himself. A man, who despite his place in history, made me believe that he cared about the relatively tiny difference I was trying to make in the land he sacrificed so much for. He had a gift for making everyone feel special.
Yes, Madiba made me choke with emotion. That was the power of the man. He touched the heart of a stranger. Is it then surprising to see how he is revered by his people? I have met quite a few people who have tales about his courage and kindness; his wisdom and his fortitude; and above all his sacrifice and his humility. India lost Gandhi long before I was born. I grew up being taught about the values he left behind.
Every century is blessed by but a handful of leaders who are genuinely selfless and who sacrifice their lives for a greater cause. Madiba is nothing short of a rarity, certainly in the five decades that I have been around there is no comparison
There is no greater lesson for a leader, than to be selfless. This thought is reflected in the poem by Rabindranath Tagore Where the Mind is Without Fear, which I quote partially for the benefit of future leaders:
“Where the clear stream of reason has lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake”
Of the few significant achievements that I have savored was the conceptualizing and financing of the documentary on Lilliesleaf and the Rivonia trial, which was later produced by Chris Bishop.
This story captured a true piece of history, and its production shall fill me with pride for all times to come, as it covers a small part of the life of a legend and is my attempt to commemorate the memories of all those who were involved in the trial.
Madiba had a dream for South Africa and for his people. Let’s honor his legacy by doing our small part in fulfilling his dream by shaping South Africa as a country of prosperity and equality encapsulated in the letter and spirit of the Freedom Charter.
I cannot help but recollect the words of General Douglas MacArthur, “old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” I salute an old soldier. Long live Madiba—father of this great nation.